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Knee pain is common with obesity and weight gain being important risk factors. Previous clinical trials have focused on overweight or obese adults with knee pain and osteoarthritis and demonstrated modest effects of intense weight loss programs on reducing knee pain despite very significant weight loss. There has been no lifestyle intervention that targets community-based adults to test its effect on prevention of knee pain. We aimed to determine the effect of a simple low-intensity self-management lifestyle intervention (HeLP-her), proven in randomised controlled trials to improve lifestyle and prevent weight gain, on knee pain in community-based young to middle-aged rural women.
A 1-year pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial was conducted in 649 community-based women (aged 18–50 years) to receive either the HeLP-her program (consisting of one group session, monthly SMS text messages, one phone coaching session, and a program manual) or one general women’s health education session. Secondary analyses were performed in 390 women who had knee pain measured using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) at baseline and 12-month follow-up. “Any knee pain” was defined as a WOMAC pain score ≥ 1. Knee pain worsening was defined as an increase in WOMAC pain score over 12 months.
Thirty-five percent of women had “any knee pain” at baseline. The risk of knee pain worsening did not differ between the intervention and control groups over 12 months. For women with any knee pain at baseline, those in the intervention arm had a lower risk of knee pain worsening compared with those in the control arm (OR 0.37, 95% CI 0.14–1.01, p = 0.05), with a stronger effect observed in women with body mass index ≥ 25 kg/m2 (OR 0.28, 95% CI 0.09–0.87, p = 0.03).
In community-based young to middle-aged women, a simple low-intensity lifestyle program reduced the risk of knee pain worsening in those with any knee pain at baseline, particularly in those overweight or obese. Pragmatic lifestyle programs such as HeLP-her may represent a feasible lifestyle intervention to reduce the burden of knee pain in the community.
ACTRN12612000115831, registered 24 January 2012.